Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I need help with Writer's Block

A storm came through over the weekend and I lost Internet access for over 4 hours. I was temporarily lost as to what to do next until I remembered life does exist beyond cyberspace. I read. (Did someone say summer? What summer!)

Last night I took some pictures of the lake from southeast to southwest moments after another storm passed.

Honestly, all I did was aim the camera and click the picture. I'm just as shocked at how beautiful they turned out as anybody.

I feel the same way about my manuscripts. All I do is sit down at the computer and type out what my characters do. The fact the information is in my head isn't a big deal. There are so many influences in my life contributing to my stories, that taking credit for them seems a bit over zealous on my part.

Having said that... I'm stuck.

My protagonist/hero RCMP Investigator Corporal Danny Killian is acting bizarre. I realize he has his issues, but the guy keep taking mental vacations. We're going over the same 12 chapters. Every time I position my fingers on the keys and wait to see what he'll do next, he stalls. Then he jumps back to chapter one and continues from there. I follow along and revise or edit until once again we're in the middle of chapter 13. Then nada. We go back to chapter one and repeat the process. This has been going on all year. I edit, revise, follow Danny and Sally, until once again we're back somewhere in the middle of chapter 13. Then the whole thing starts over again: I sit. I wait. And nada. Well, you get the picture.

I'm reading Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel, Martha Engber's Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up, and James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. These are great books! But now I'm afraid to give credence to the words: Do you think ... it's burn out! Am I experiencing editing overload! I've spent the last 3 months working with my awesome editor Leanne Flett Kruger. It was a painless experience. Surely it's not that I'm OLD?


What do you guys do when this happens to you? Words of Wisdom, please!
--happy to be blogging!
ps. A thought just occurred to me. Maybe I'm just being lazy. 


  1. Great pictures. Write a chapter bumping your protagonist off - see if he gets off his duff then! Danny better understand that no one is indespensible. Ah, nothing better than a good old fashioned threat!

  2. Great idea! Only, I did already and he didn't cooperate. I shot him, and he jumped up and said, "I'm alive. I'm alive." It was bizarre.

    Maybe I should throw him in front of a moving train?

  3. Joylene, maybe you just need to take a short break. Wait until Monday. Mondays are the perfect day to start work. Meanwhile, put up your feet. Read some more. Clean the boat. Go fishing. Bake a cake. Paint the house. "Well, you get the picture."

    Relax. Writer's Block is a fallacy. It's your mind telling you your body needs some time off.

  4. You do not have writers block. You are writing, therefore, no block. Now, the question is why are you not writing on the other things? What are you afraid will happen if you write poorly?

    I find when I answer that question, it usually relieves the block.

    Once I give myself permission to write badly, I can write through the block. It is my fear that somehow I will do some great harm to myself to have a bad piece of writing that no one sees except me.

    Also, I say, don't edit until you have finished the book. Think about it this way. Writing is a type of exploration. Now, if Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis every time they got lost, they would have never made it to the pacific. They simply kept going west.

    Keep going toward that last chapter. Then go back to the book and correct stuff. You can't edit the plot in chapter three if you don't know what is going to happen in chapter 36. If you do, then you change what happens in chapter 36

  5. @Kira, thanks for that. The more i think of it, the more I'm sure this isn't writer's block.

    @Terri, excellent points. Part of my problem is it's easier to go back and start over rather than push harder. You're right. There's an underlying reason I'm stuck. And I need to figure it out. Thanks!

    Thanks for commenting, ladies. Appreciate your thoughts.

  6. That's how I always write. Most every day when I turn on the computer and bring up my latest iteration of my story, I read through the pages I've already written, a fast read, sometimes stopping to change a word here and there, then by the time I'm at the place I last stopped, either the next words come to me or they don't. It's a crap shoot. If the story moves on in my head I start typing away to get it down. If not I Google a bit to do more research about some aspect of the story. Often that cracks the nut open and the meat falls out. If that doesn't crack the nut, I sometimes reread from the beginning, or I research something else. I may do that until my writing time for the day is up. If so I save everything and come back then next day and start at page 1 again. I rarely feel anything like writer's block and I've completed 3 book length stories in this way. It's my way of writing and I don't fight it.

  7. Billie, we must be related! Thank you. I think you've given me a viable solution and I'm going to give it a try. One thing -- I have a polished first twelve chapters. (Smiling proudly)

  8. One other thing, Joylene. You just read a novel of mine that was written in this fashion. And, oh my, I could almost recite the first couple of chapters by heart when I finally submitted it to the publisher. But, somewhere into my tenth (or so) year of writing, I noticed that I always start at page 1, every day. I may go slowly and do lots of editing, or I may scan or speed read until I've reached the place where it's time to give my Muse free reign. I realized it's how I "do life" so it feels natural. And I'm not afraid to jump into Facebook or someone's blog (like yours) if the writing seems "hard." By the time I've had lunch, and I'm ready to go back to the computer, the Muse has miraculously been liberated.

  9. Gorgeous post-storm photos! A view like that is great compensation for being without power for four hours!

    It's strange how sometimes our characters refuse to do what they should or what we wish they would. Do you think Danny and Sally are superstitious? Maybe skip over chapter 13... jump ahead in the story. Write a scene with some action to get the adrenalin going. Maybe you've arrived at that dreaded "middle of the story slump" and need to leave it and write a later scene, or write the ending instead. Even if you throw it out later it would be worth it just to be pushing your characters forward. You can always go back and fill in the middle later.

    Everyone has their own system of writing. I see what Billie is saying, but it wouldn't work for me. If I went back to the beginning every time I sat down to write, I would fill all my writing time with re-reading and editing, and my bogged down mind would never get to a fresh creating place. Going down the same path every day takes you to the same destination every day, and you already know that isn't working for you.

    Keep talking and blogging about it until something clicks!

  10. I go to the first chapter if I'm stuck. Otherwise, I begin each day by reading the previous chapter to get the momentum. The thing is, I've written the first draft for Omatiwak and it didn't work. This is the second draft and I'm at the place where the plot went wrong.

    You're right, Carol. I'm in the dreaded middle. I'm going to try everyone's suggestions.

  11. Definitely frustrating! Would this be a time to try plotting/outlining? Or putting every scene into a database so they can be shifted around? Or are you needing totally new scenes? Can any of us help by reading and offering suggestions?

    (Lots of questions; no answers. Blech!!)

  12. Joylene, I come across this somewhat frequently in my writing. It hasn't been as bad with my WIP. But what I have done is sit down and talk to my husband and we brainstorm about the characters, the setting, plot, etc. Even if I don't use his ideas, they are a springboard to connecting with my creative self again.

  13. @Carol, I like your idea. I agree, I think I need to do an outline or at least some plotting. The solution is just beyond the surface. I can feel it. Thanks for your awesome suggestions.

    @Katie, I like your process. I think voicing possible scenarios out loud is a great idea. Like a soundboard. Thanks!

  14. Try this old post of mine. Hope it helps.



  15. Howdy Joylene. I'm so late getting here, I can combine my comment with a wish: Happy Canada Day!

    You might try forbidding yourself to go back. Go forward and forward only. Don't be afraid to write something that sucks. If fact, if you have to, go in intentionally and write something silly, stupid, or far-fetched. You're going to revise it all dozens of times anyway. Just get something down, get moving, even if it's horrible.

    See if the motion doesn't lead to something not horrible, but don't dare go into any chapter earlier than 13 or whatever until you've gone forward.

    Or not. Ha. Different things work for different writers.

    Good luck.

  16. Great post, Brenna. I chose the second #3 and 4. Thanks for the help.

    Keith, you old puppy. How are you? Thanks for the help. I'm writing something today! For sure! Silly or not silly.

  17. Amazing photos! No wonder my in-laws are always trying to get us back up there ;)

    But for writer's block, I wish I had more meaningful insight. What I do, at my own desk, is a bit simplistic. I force it. And the only reason I can force the story is because I use outlines, so I have to agree on that strategy.

    I find, if I have an outline, there's some hint of an answer to the question of what comes next, even if I feel like deviating once I'm in the moment.

    That's my two cents ;)

    Happy Canada Day to you too!

  18. Thank you for your valuable two cents worth, Christine. I am inspired by all you do, from the writing to making such beautiful jewellery. I think you have a great idea with the outline, and I'm going to give it the old college try.

  19. Thank you for your valuable two cents worth, Christine. I am inspired by all you do, from the writing to making such beautiful jewellery. I think you have a great idea with the outline, and I'm going to give it the old college try.

  20. You might try writing (or at least defining for yourself) the end of the story first. What happens to all the characters at the end? Where does everyone end up? I always find that if I know those answers, I can work through the middle parts. It's a bit like the way I teach my dog to go over the A-frame in agility. I know I want the dog to stop at the bottom of the frame and wait for me. So, the first thing I teach is how to stay at the bottom. Then I go back and show the dog how to go over the frame. Under the pressure of competition, the critical piece of the exercise is the stay.

    So ask yourself: What do you want the reader to see, feel, experience, at the end of your story? From where the characters start, what must they go through mentally/phsycially to end up where you want them at the end?

    When I get blocked, that is ususually the mental path I take - along with pacing around the house talking to myself. I also find that having another creative project like home improvement or gardening is also good for making things come together. Long drives with music can work, too. Sometimes its as simple as doing the dishes.

    Maybe Danny's hesitation is something to work WITH rather than fight against? What happens if he drags his butt professionally as well as just with you?

  21. Thanks for defining the process so thoroughly for me, Vicki. This is what I need to do. Danny needs to work through his personal demons, decide if this case is important enough and move from there. Excellent. Thanks!

  22. Beautiful pictures!

    Check out my sites: http://eileenmoynihan.wordpress.com/

  23. Thanks A Write Life and Anonymous. Appreciate you stopping by. Have a great day.


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